In 2012 I asked my supervisor if I could work "remotely" for a day. School was out for the summer, and I was building our school's master schedule.
To my surprise, I was given permission to work at home instead of reporting to my office. Although I was only allowed to work remotely for a day, my whole demeanor about work changed. I went from irritated about being forced to sit at the same desk where I spend most of my waking hours to ecstatic in realizing I had the autonomy to control how I completed my work.
In terms of where to work, my decision was easy. There was a local coffee shop I loved frequenting. There was something about the smell of coffee, putting on headphones, and having my own private table that got me in the productivity “zone.”
The following summer, I again asked if I could work remotely for a day. This time, I was not given permission. I needed to do work from my office. Not that I wasn’t trusted, but there were concerns about other employees not being given the same opportunities. Furthermore, my supervisor did not want to get in trouble with his supervisor for allowing me this flexibility.
For non-educators, this is ridiculous.
For educators, this is our life.
More than two-thirds of professionals around the world work remotely at least one day every week. More than half work remotely at least half of the week.
Research backs this trend: employees crave autonomy.
Studies have found employees who are given more control over schedule and workflow are more motivated, engaged, loyal, and mentally well. When employees are given autonomy, they are more likely to be self-driven and possess intrinsic motivation.
However, the field of education has been slow as molasses to respond to the remote work movement. Even with the rising acceptance of virtual learning as a viable mode of instruction, many educators are forced to report to their classroom or office for work.
I’m not suggesting traditional brick and mortar schools with regular classrooms be eliminated. I am however, suggesting educational leaders start getting creative in looking for opportunities to provide staff with flexibility to complete work.
One place to start is summer work. Most administrators, secretaries, and some support staff work summer hours. Once kids are no longer in buildings, the argument for remote work gets much stronger. Another option to consider is professional learning. Professional development presents excellent opportunities for staff members to be given autonomy and flexibility for work completion.
While not every summer day or professional learning can be remote, educational leaders should capitalize on chances to give staff members flexibility with their work.
As you consider remote work in your setting, questions will arise. Some of the most common concerns about remote work are addressed below:
Will they do work if they aren't in the office? If professionals can't be trusted to work at levels regardless of their physical location, the employee has bigger issues than remote work. Leaders must develop a mindset where all educators are trusted, while dealing with those who abuse freedom. If the employee can't be trusted, then why is he still working in your organization?
But someone needs to be in the building. Yes, some communities are accustomed to having someone in the school at all times. But if there are four people working in the summer, do they all need to be available to answer phones and greet visitors. As long as office hours and protocols are clearly communicated, this should not be an issue.
We don't have the equipment to do remote work. Many office staff in schools don't have laptops which limit mobility. Districts would be wise to replace desktops with laptops to allow for remote work possibilities.
But it's not fair to other staff members who can't leave. There are pros and cons to each school job, meaning some staff won’t have the option of working at home. However, don’t stop what's doing best for most people because of the possible hurt feelings of a few.
But what if we don't want to work remotely? No one is forced to do remote work. Some employees prefer to remove themselves from distractions by getting away from home. Remote work is not for everyone, and staff should be given a chance to work wherever they work best.
Anyone who has worked in a school realizes working with students for 180 days can create high levels of stress, anxiety, and tension. To combat these burdens, school leaders must explore opportunities to keep staff members relaxed, happy, and refreshed so they can perform their jobs at high levels when kids are in around.
Therefore, consider adopting the following mentality when it comes to work:
As long as an employee accomplishes the goals for which she is responsible, how she gets there should not matter.